What they're saying about us

An almost rock star still doing the thing he loves

We just knew they were going to be huge stars, internationally famous, wealthy beyond imagining.

It was summer's end, 1965. My buddies and I, along with hundreds of other people, gathered in the parking lot of the Northland shopping mall in Columbus, Ohio, to watch the Battle of the Bands.

The bands were all local kids, just like us, and one of those bands -- the Dantes -- had something special going for it. The lead singer, 18-year-old Barry Hayden, possessed the onstage electricity, the lithe movements, the command of each moment, of a Midwestern Mick Jagger. You couldn't take your eyes off him.

The band had a terrific, hard-driving new song called "Can't Get Enough of Your Love" (it pre-dated the smooth Barry White tune with similar wording), and the Dantes went to No. 1 with it on the hometown rock station, WCOL. We stood there on the surface of the parking lot and watched them in that summer's waning days, and we felt elevated just to be spending the afternoon in their presence.

The Dantes would make two more records -- both of them Rolling Stones covers: "Under My Thumb" and "Connection" -- each of which also went to No. 1 on WCOL. They opened for Jimi Hendrix once at a show at Veterans Memorial auditorium in Columbus. But somehow, despite their talent, nothing happened for the Dantes nationally. Three years later, they disbanded.

And Barry Hayden?

We didn't know what became of him.

As this summer of 2012 was winding down, I was visiting central Ohio and saw that on a Friday night, at a place in the town of Gahanna called the FM All-American Bar and Grill, there was going to be a band called the Professors ("fully tenured rock and roll") playing. No cover charge, no minimum.

The lead singer's name was Barry Hayden.

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These Profs know their subject

Taken together, the Professors represent many epochs of rock 'n' roll. The main one, however, that these venerable graybeards devote themselves to is 1966 or so, when the Rolling Stones roamed the country reinventing American R&B; when the Animals were wild and not yet psychedelicized; and when the genius Dylan was roaring down Highway 61. Move over, Mendelsonics, there are some new old boys in town. The garage wars, conducted by the cats who were there, are under way. But the Profs have got something the Mendelsonics don't have: Barry Hayden, lead singer of Ohio garage-rock legends the Dantes, who's sporting a black bowler derby hat and still in good form.

When I pulled up to the Shrunken Head Monday and tethered my two-wheeled mount, the band was pounding out a spirited "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction." The vocals were dead-on, and the band sounded both loose and tight, a nice accomplishment. Billy Zenn on bass was keeping a firm, uncomplicated foundation. Drummer Clay Biggs was playing a sliver behind the beat, smartly nestled between Bruce Roberts's Telecaster guitar and keyboardist Don Groner's chords. Veteran chemistry, there's nothing like it.

The Professors ("Fully Tenured Rock 'n' Roll," their banner reads) did a marathon set, running through some 30 songs with nary a pause. These boys don't lack stamina, like their heroes the Stones, who are still doing two and a half hours onstage. A partial set list: "Hey Little Girl" (Syndicate of Sound), loads more Stones ("Off the Hook," "Time Is on My Side"), "Not Fade Away," Dylan's "Like A Rolling Stone," "Don't Bring Me Down" by the Animals, "Chains" (the Cookies song made famous by the Beatles), "Lady Madonna" and yes, even "Louie Louie," for Chrissakes. "We were thinking of bringing our oxygen bottles onstage next to the microphone stands," said Zenn, a musician who's in it for the long haul. "But we haven't needed them so far."

It's a labor of love with these cats, reactivated when Roberts and Hayden got together over an acoustic guitar and some raggedly strummed Stones songs. "The first month was research and development," said the derbied Hayden. "Anything he could remember, we did," chimed in Roberts. Thus a good time was born.

So, young ageist cubs, beware: These rock 'n' roll lions might be a little dangerous to your youthful sensibilities. Anybody can be young and strum a guitar. But this pride of Professors has got two things to prove: They're still good and it's still fun.